A Death in Sweden

A Death in Sweden by Kevin Wignall


Siri was all in black. She saw her reflection in the windows of Mr. Olofsson’s car as she walked past and she liked the totality of it—black leather jacket, tight skirt, patterned black leggings, black knee socks, boots. It made her skin look even paler than it was, and her hair, casually spiked, was almost as translucent.

She’d thought about dyeing her hair black too, because blonde hair was all too common in northern Sweden, but keeping it blonde somehow reminded her that she wouldn’t always be here. She’d escape to university first, then to the world beyond—London, Paris, New York, and who knew where else besides.

Pia was already at the bus stop and so was the older guy who always got on at their stop. Siri nodded to Pia as she got there and gave a half-smile but they didn’t speak. Sometimes they did, today they didn’t, not out of animosity, just a quiet understanding that there wasn’t always a need.

The bus came, not the usual driver, but the same passengers. There were the two middle-aged women sitting at the front who talked continuously and got off at the next stop. There were the two boys from school—they usually nodded to Siri but never spoke. Pia knew them and always sat with them, sometimes laughing and joking. And that was it, at least for the next few stops.

Siri walked two-thirds of the way up the bus and sat down. She didn’t walk all the way to the back because the older guy who got on with them always sat on the back seat, and stayed on after they got off for school. It was just one of those weird unwritten rules—they all sat in the same seats, every morning, no change of routine, not ever.

Siri put her earphones in and turned on her music, then closed her eyes against the bright September sunlight and relaxed with the smooth movement of the bus pulling away and gliding along the road towards another day.

A few minutes later she felt it slowing down, then stop, and she knew that the two women would be getting off—normally they’d chat with the driver for a few seconds, but perhaps not today if they didn’t know him. They set off again, Siri’s eyes still closed but glowing orange inside, the music cocooning her.

She felt the bus braking a couple of times more than it usually would have done, the driver slowing down at stops where the familiar driver would have sped past, knowing no one ever boarded there. They didn’t stop though, and then the bus picked up a little speed on the open road.

She became lost in herself and her music, thoughts falling away. Once, briefly, she opened her eyes, saw Pia chatting enthusiastically with the two boys, saw the kaleidoscope of shadows and sunlight flickering along the road edge and among the trees. She shut it all out again and could almost have fallen asleep.

Then she opened her eyes a second time, because in some odd way she could feel that something was wrong, almost as if she was moving sideways rather than forwards. The bus was braking, but the movement seemed wrong somehow. The older guy appeared at her side, quite suddenly, making her jump a little. She thought he was walking down to the front of the bus.

She tried to look forward, to see what was happening, but the older guy stopped and turned abruptly and she realized now that his actions were urgent and directed at her. Before she could respond, he grabbed her, pulling her from her seat with frightening ease. She screamed, the sound of it muffled and contained inside her own head by the music from the earphones.

Briefly, she caught a glimpse of Pia and the two boys. They’d stopped talking, she thought, but none of them turned to see why she was screaming. One of the boys had his face pressed against the window. Siri didn’t have time to think through what it meant because the man was pushing her further up the aisle, a sickening strength in him.

She fell backwards, crashing to the floor in slow motion and without any noticeable impact, as if she was falling against some opposing momentum, as if gravity had briefly failed. And then the man fell on top of her, and she could see him speaking to her, looking desperate and terrifying, but she couldn’t hear him, only the music.

She felt a jolt, and suddenly he held himself tighter against her body, and she saw that his hands were gripping the underneath of the seats, pulling himself harder against her, the weight crushing, suffocating her. She screamed again, looked imploringly, but his own eyes were elsewhere, lost in the monumental effort of keeping her pinned down.

Another jolt, this one shuddering through her, and instantly the man was gone, his weight lifting so abruptly that for a moment she felt she, too, was flying, but she was still almost where he had thrown her. She felt the cold air, and turning, saw that the emergency door at the back of the bus had opened, and without knowing it, she scrambled up, to her knees, to her feet, leaping out onto the road and running maybe a dozen steps before the swiftness of her own escape finally caught up with her and she stumbled to the ground.

One of her earphones fell out, and hearing the world, the desperate braking of a vehicle on the road, the blare of a horn, she yanked the other one free and turned to look behind her. Only now did she understand what had just happened, but it was almost impossible to believe it could have happened.

She was sitting in the middle of the road, looking at the wreckage of the bus she’d been traveling on and the timber truck with which it had collided. Cut trees were strewn along the Tarmac, and both vehicles were so mangled it was hard to see where one began and the other ended.

She heard someone running towards her, the driver of the vehicle she’d heard braking hard. He stopped, crouched down, put a hand on her shoulder. She didn’t look at him but she could see in her peripheral vision that he was wearing a check shirt, work clothes.

“My God, are you okay?”

His voice was full of incredulity and horror. She nodded.

“There are other people.”

He’d taken out his phone and held it to his ear, but said to her, “I don’t think so. Stay here.”

He got up and walked tentatively toward the wreckage, speaking into his phone, the words not quite audible though she guessed it was the police. And it wasn’t the sight of the crushed and twisted metal that convinced her the man was right, but the disturbing stillness. No one else could have survived that accident.

She should not have survived it herself, and felt strangely light-headed with the realization that she was unharmed, that she was sitting here alive in the middle of the road, and a man she had seen every day, but with whom she had never exchanged a single word, had undoubtedly saved her life.

Chapter One

Ramon Martinez had been living under an alias in this prosperous Madrid suburb for nearly two years now, and had probably reached the point of believing he’d never be found. Maybe it had gone beyond that, and he’d fooled himself into thinking they weren’t even looking for him anymore.

But they were still looking for him, and after eighteen months of drawing a blank, they’d finally employed Dan Hendricks. In the end, that’s how simple it had been—Ramon Martinez didn’t know it, but his time was almost up.

Dan had spent the last two days watching him from the building across the street. He’d had a grandstand view into the Martinez family apartment, observing the man’s day-to-day life with his wife, his young son and baby girl, the maid and the live-in nanny.

This morning, confident of their routine, Dan went one better and walked out of his own building just as Martinez set off to walk the boy the short distance to kindergarten. Dan fell in behind them as they strolled without haste in the autumnal sunshine.

The boy was maybe five or six, wearing a little rucksack, and he talked animatedly to his father as they walked along, his voice carrying on the still morning air. Martinez responded now and then in good humor, even showing contrition when his son chastised him for laughing at something that wasn’t meant to be funny.

They turned right into a long quiet street and Dan dropped back a little, though he needn’t have worried. Martinez was oblivious, as if the matters being explained by his son were the only things of importance in his world.

Briefly, longingly, Dan thought of his own son, but he packed the memory away quickly, determined not to let his concentration slip, determined not to see parallels or even similarities. Nothing was the same, and in truth, he could hardly compare his own life to that of Ramon Martinez.

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